Robert R. Taylor biography featured in Journal of Architectural Education

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2014 by Brian Seidman

Robert R. Taylor and Tuskegee: An African American Architect Designs for Booker T. Washington by Ellen WeissA new review in the Journal of Architectural Education calls Ellen Weiss’s biography of African American architect Robert R. Taylor “a vital addition to architectural history, African American studies, the history of education, history of the South, and that of campus architecture.”

In the Volume 68, Issue 2, 2014 edition of the Journal of Architectural Education, University of Miami professor Katherine Wheeler examines Robert R. Taylor and Tuskegee: An African American Architect Designs for Booker T. Washington by Ellen Weiss, published by NewSouth Books in 2012. The richly illustrated biography relates Taylor’s life and early education, but most importantly his early 1890s appointment by Booker T. Washington to the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute (later Tuskegee University) to teach and help design the institute’s buildings. Weiss interprets Taylor designing the buildings, as well as the students helping to build them, as a progressive act, not only bolstering the campus but also serving as a point of racial pride in defiance of strengthening Jim Crow laws.

Wheeler writes that Weiss’s book deftly details “the challenges black architects faced in the South after the Civil War, as well as underlining the importance of architecture’s role in promoting racial equality. Architecture at Tuskegee was, as Weiss rightly notes, ‘a fist against the sky’ (p. 87).”

Wheeler continues, “Taylor’s position at the institute was an important one. He was initially hired to teach drawing in addition to designing institute buildings. Weiss makes an excellent point when she notes the importance of drawing at Tuskegee. Drawing not only facilitated understanding but also the planning of the work, which would have resonated with blacks who recognized that ‘slave artisans worked under white direction alone and therefore did not plan their own work’ (p. 42). Drawing, like architecture, held power, as both Washington and Taylor were well aware.”

The review notes that Robert R. Taylor and Tuskegee is a dual biography of both the architect and the school. The book is complemented by “wonderful archival images of Taylor, the students, and the buildings that capture the growth and formality of the campus. … [Weiss] is also careful to tease out the possible meanings of a building and describes Taylor’s architecture in vivid language.”

Wheeler concludes that “while Taylor may never be a household name among nonarchitects, he certainly deserves recognition in our surveys of architectural history and his designs for Tuskegee. We must include him and his colleagues to present the history of the profession in all its facets. Likewise, we must recognize as Taylor did the power of architecture as not just a setting for, but also an agent of, change.”

The Journal of Architectural Education is a publication of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA). Download a PDF of the Robert R. Taylor review.

Robert R. Taylor and Tuskegee: An African American Architect Designs for Booker T. Washington, by Ellen Weiss, is available from NewSouth Books, Amazon, or your favorite bookstore.

NPR’s Here and Now interviews Voices Beyond Bondage editor Erika DeSimone

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014 by Lisa Harrison

Voices Beyond Bondage: An Anthology of Verse by African Americans of the 19th Century

Voices Beyond Bondage editor Erika DeSimone was interviewed last week on National Public Radio’s “Here and Now.” In a lively exchange, DeSimone told host Peter O’Dowd about the 19th century African American literary movement celebrated in her newly published anthology, co-edited with Fidel Louis. Only recently have scholars even begun to look at the verse that appeared in scores of black-owned newspapers dating from the antebellum and postbellum periods. Not surprisingly, says DeSimone, readers have been intrigued by the beauty and strength of the poems within the book’s pages.

“There was a whole movement of poetry writing by African Americans of the 19th century . . . almost every single black-owned newspaper in the nation carried a poetry column,” DeSimone enthused. In response to Dowd’s expression of surprise, DeSimone observed that at the start of the Civil War, roughly 10% of slaves were literate. Many black Americans during the period either learned to read and write in free schools in the North or were taught by family members and friends. In poetry, she added, African Americans gave voice to joy and pain and to the harsh experiences of their lives.

The “Here and Now” interviewed coincided with a Massachusetts book tour for co-editors Erika DeSimone and Fidel Louis. They took their anthology on the road talking to appreciative audiences at two Boston Public Library branches — Mattapan, in Mattapan, MA, and Grove Hall, in Dorchester, MA — and also to Boston’s Museum of African American History.

To hear the interview and a sample of pieces featured in the anthology, visit NPR’s “Here & Now.” Voices Beyond Bondage is available from NewSouth Books, Amazon, or your favorite bookstore.

ArtsATL interviews three-time Georgia Author of the Year Ted Dunagan

Tuesday, December 16th, 2014 by Lisa Harrison

The Salvation of Miss Lucretia by Ted Dunagan

Young adult author Ted Dunagan, winner of the Georgia Author of the Year for his first three novels, starting with A Yellow Watermelon, was interviewed recently by ArtsATL. The amiable author chatted with Sarah Sacha Dollacker about his childhood desire to become a writer and the inspiration for his books. The semi-autobiographical stories focus on the friendship between two boys, one white and one black, who work together to rid their rural community of criminals in exciting adventures reminiscent of the adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. The characters Ted and Poudlum are based on and have the actual names of the author and his boyhood best friend.

In the interview, Dunagan recalled, “I’ve wanted to be a writer my entire life, but I didn’t have the opportunity to start until about 10 years ago. I didn’t start out writing about my childhood. When I first started writing seriously, I had an editor working with me. I kept showing her what I was working on, and she kept telling me that it was terrible.

“One day, she said, ‘Didn’t you grow up picking cotton? Write about that.’ I didn’t actually pick that much cotton, but I realized that I grew up in a unique time and place. She encouraged me to write about my memories.”

Dunagan has been nominated for the 2015 Georgia Author of the Year Award for his latest novel, The Salvation of Miss Lucretia. He is working on the fifth book in the series as his young fans eagerly anticipate reading the further exploits of Ted and Poudlum.

Heaven and Earth Collide author Alan Cross quoted in Washington Post; book reviewed on Bill Tammeus’s Faith Matters blog

Friday, December 5th, 2014 by Lisa Harrison

When Heaven and Earth Collide: Racism, Southern Evangelicals, and the Better Way of Jesus by Alan CrossAlan Cross, author of When Heaven and Earth Collide: Racism, Southern Evangelicals, and the Better Way of Jesus, was quoted recently in a Religion News Service article on current events in Ferguson, Missouri and New York that ran in papers across the country, most prominently in the Washington Post.

Cross was one of several important religious figures interviewed. Echoing the theme of his book, he noted that “what often happens when white evangelicals try to speak into this is that we continue to think first in terms of our own position. We should consider what people in the black community are saying, what are they going through, what is their experience.”

When Heaven and Earth Collide also recently received an excellent review on Bill’s ‘Faith Matters’ Blog by Bill Tammeus. In a piece that compares Evangelical support of racial segregation to other “subversions of Christianity” throughout history, Tammeus says that When Heaven and Earth Collide “is a necessary book by a man steeped in the white evangelical tradition but willing to expose what went wrong there. It would be easy for Christians in a different tradition to call down shame on those white Southerners for their failures, but every tradition has its own failures that need this kind of intense scrutiny so they don’t continue into the future.”

When Heaven and Earth Collide: Racism, Southern Evangelicals, and the Better Way of Jesus is an important contribution to the discussion of relations between the races from a Gospel perspective. It’s available from NewSouth Books, Amazon, or your favorite bookstore.

Storytelling legend Kathryn Tucker Windham named to Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame

Tuesday, November 18th, 2014 by Lisa Harrison

Alabama, One Big Front Porch by Kathryn Tucker Windham

Kathryn Tucker Windham — nationally renowned author, storyteller, journalist, photographer, and beloved daughter of the state of Alabama — has been named as the sole inductee into the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame for 2015. Windham passed away in 2011.

According to the Montgomery Advertiser, the honor of being the only inductee for a year is one afforded to those with “exceptional backgrounds.” NewSouth Books is proud to have been Windham’s publisher during the last years of her prolific writing career, releasing a new edition of the popular Alabama, One Big Front Porch as well as the new titles Ernest’s Gift, Jeffrey’s Favorite 13 Ghost Stories, Spit, Scarey Ann and Sweat Bees: One Thing Leads to Another, and Windham’s final book, She: The Old Woman Who Took Over My Life.

Windham’s varied career began when she was hired by The Alabama Journal as the state’s first female crime reporter. The journalist then became a nationally recognized storyteller, and next applied her gift with a tale to writing her famous “Jeffrey” ghost story books and to a spot as a commentator for National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” program. Windham’s books include not only tales of the haunted South, but reminiscences about Southern culture (and recipes) from the early twentieth century days of her childhood, and a final poignant memoir about aging.

Deborah Rankins, Assistant Director of Library Services at the Kathryn Tucker Windham Library and Museum, says, “The announcement of Kathryn Tucker Windham as the 2015 Inductee to the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame is a great time for celebration at the Kathryn Tucker Windham Museum, in the state of Alabama, and across the nation. I am honored for being one of her ‘applauding angels’ who followed and supported her over the years. Windham described happiness as being ‘like a cloud of applauding angels,’ who followed and supported her. However, most will agree that it is us who benefitted more, for she is our angel. I am forever grateful for her lifetime treasures of publications, storytelling, and other gifts that will resonate in our lives and in the lives of future generations for years to come.”

Kathryn Tucker Windham’s books Alabama, One Big Front Porch, Ernest’s Gift, Jeffrey’s Favorite 13 Ghost Stories, Spit, Scarey Ann and Sweat Bees: One Thing Leads to Another, and She: The Old Woman Who Took Over My Life are available from NewSouth Books or your favorite bookstore.

Commemorating the End of the Montgomery Bus Boycott

Thursday, November 13th, 2014 by Randall Williams
Sheriff's booking photo of Rosa Parks (Associated Press)

Sheriff’s booking photo of Rosa Parks (Associated Press)

Today, November 13, in 1956 was Day 345 in the Montgomery Bus Boycott. It was also the day that the boycotters won victory in their struggle that began after the arrest of Rosa Parks on December 1, 1955. The boycott began four days later, on December 5, 1955, on the morning of the day that she was to be tried in Montgomery city court on misdemeanor charges of violating the city law that said that blacks and whites had to sit in segregated sections on local buses.

She was tried and was convicted and fined $10 and $4 in court costs. Her lawyer, Fred D. Gray, announced that he would appeal her case, which he did. But Mrs. Parks’s misdemeanor conviction was mooted when the U.S. Supreme Court on November 13, 1956, affirmed a lower-court decision that the Montgomery bus seating law was unconstitutional. That lower-court ruling, based on the principle established in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, was written by U.S. District Judge Frank M. Johnson Jr. for a three-judge panel consisting of himself and U.S. Circuit Judges Richard Rives and Seybourne Lynne. Rives, a Montgomerian, concurred in Johnson’s opinion; Lynne, of Birmingham, dissented.

City and state officials in Montgomery refused to accept Johnson’s ruling and appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. Because the case involved a constitutional conflict between state and federal law, it was a direct appeal to the Supreme Court without passing first through the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals; that was also why the original case was heard by a three-judge panel rather than by Johnson alone.

Alabama Attorney General John Patterson and Montgomery City Attorney Walter Knabe represented the City of Montgomery. Fred Gray, Thurgood Marshall and Robert Carter of the national NAACP, and Charles Langford, the only other black lawyer in Montgomery besides Gray at the time, represented the plaintiffs.

The plaintiffs, by the way, did not include Rosa Parks. Gray had decided her criminal case needed to be kept separate from the civil lawsuit against the segregation laws themselves. So the four black women who became Fred Gray’s clients and actually sued the city were Aurelia Browder, Susie McDonald, Claudette Colvin, and Mary Louise Smith — all had been previously arrested and convicted on the same charge as Mrs. Parks.

The Supreme Court did not hear Montgomery’s appeal; it simply affirmed, on the basis of the lower-court record and the briefs in the case, the lower court’s ruling.

News of the Supreme Court decision reached Montgomery instantly, but the City of Montgomery, intransigent to the end, did not immediately end the segregated bus seating. That moment did not come for another month until the Supreme Court order was printed, mailed, and received at the Federal Courthouse in Montgomery on December 20, 1956, and formally served by U.S. marshals on the city officials. And then on the morning of December 21, 1956, 382 days after they had begun boycotting, Montgomery’s black citizens returned to the city buses with the right to sit wherever they pleased and to be treated with the same dignity and courtesy as white passengers. Which was all they had wanted in the first place.

There are many ironies in the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The Judge John B. Scott Sr. who convicted Rosa Parks was the grandson of one of Montgomery’s founders. He was also the secretary of the local bar association and had administered Fred Gray’s bar exam in 1954, admitting the young black lawyer to legal practice in Alabama. Attorney General John Patterson would parlay his segregationist stance in the bus boycott and other cases into election as Alabama governor in 1958 (beating a young George Wallace, who was the liberal in the race). Patterson’s election and Wallace’s conversion to segregationist tactics to win the governor’s office in 1962 set Alabama on the path toward full resistance to civil rights progress.

Ultimately Wallace and Patterson both recanted their segregationist views and policies and apologized, but by then Alabama had already lost in every court it ventured into, and Rosa Parks and Fred Gray were both national heroes, along with Martin Luther King Jr. and Ralph D. Abernathy, just to name two of the boycott participants; there were hundreds of others who played vital roles but never gained national fame.

And the 382 days . . . for years history books and even the Smithsonian Institution stated that the boycott lasted 381 days. But when they did the math, they forgot that 1956 was a leap year, and adding February 29 makes it 382 days.

[NewSouth Books titles exploring this history include: Bus Ride to Justice by Fred D. Gray; The Judge by Frank Sikora (biography of Frank M. Johnson Jr.); A White Preacher’s Message by Robert S. Graetz (original member of the Montgomery Improvement Association); This Day in Civil Rights History by Ben Beard and Randall Williams; Jim Crow and Me by Solomon S. Seay Jr.; Nobody But the People by Warren Trest (biography of John Patterson); Johnnie by Randall Williams (children’s book about Rosa Parks’s friend, Johnnie Carr), and Dixie Redux edited by Raymond Arsenault and Vernon Burton (an anthology containing a chapter on national reaction to the Montgomery boycott).]

William Heath featured at Hood College Realizing the Dream talk; interviewed by Frederick News-Post

Wednesday, November 12th, 2014 by Lisa Harrison

The Children Bob Moses Lead by William Heath

William Heath, author of The Children Bob Moses Led, recently gave a talk on the novel at Hood College as part of the institution’s year-long “Realizing the Dream” celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act. Heath discussed Freedom Summer 1964, the subject of his book. The author was interviewed by the Frederick News-Post in connection with the event.

Heath told the News-Post that his talk to young people focuses on the active roles taken by youth during the civil rights era, including challenging rigged voter registration systems, teaching in freedom schools, staging sit-ins, and participating in freedom rides. Such activities are dramatized in The Children Bob Moses Led, the story of a fictional character participating in the movement under the leadership of real-life hero Bob Moses.

According to the News-Post, Heath pointed out that “my generation got to rebel against our parents and be morally correct in doing so,” and said that he mentions global warming as a modern issue that today’s youth could address.

William Heath continues to tour with his message of social engagement.

The Children Bob Moses Led is available from NewSouth Books, Amazon, or your favorite bookstore.

Museum of Tolerance screens Greenhorn movie

Wednesday, November 5th, 2014 by Brian Seidman

Greenhorn by Anna OlswangerGreenhorn, a new movie based on author Anna Olswanger’s illustrated book of the same name published by NewSouth Books, premiered this past October in special showings at the Museum of Tolerance in Manhattan.

Greenhorn tells the story of Daniel, a young Holocaust survivor who arrives to live at a New York yeshiva in 1946. He is befriended by Aaron, who stutters, and the two boys bond in the face of taunting from the other children. Daniel carries with him a mysterious box that he believes is his last connection to his family, which he’s ultimately able to let go of through Aaron’s support.

The Jewish Standard‘s Abigail Klein Leichman covered the screening and spoke with Olswanger:

The story is a fictionalized version of a recollection Ms. Olswanger heard in the 1980s from Rabbi Rafael Grossman of Englewood, who was then the rabbi of Baron Hirsch Synagogue in Memphis, where she lived at the time. … Rabbi Grossman was the little boy with the stutter.

“I went on a synagogue trip to Israel led by Rabbi Grossman,” Ms. Olswanger said. “As we approached Jerusalem on the bus, he told this story because only the previous year he had met his childhood friend again, who had become a pediatrician in Jerusalem.”

… Since the book’s publication in 2012, readers have responded to other poignant aspects of the plot. The Stuttering Foundation of America honored Greenhorn, and the organization’s director, Jane Fraser, arranged for the film’s showing at the Museum of Tolerance.

“The book wasn’t published until 2012 partly because it’s a tough story and partly because it’s hard to get Holocaust stories published,” Ms. Olswanger continued. … “There are a lot of ethics involved in writing about the Holocaust and in writing about cruelty,” she said. “I didn’t want to bring more of that into the world. I tried to stick to what Rabbi Grossman told me, although I had to invent dialogue.”

One of her clients put her in touch with director Tom Whitus. “He liked the book and wanted to make a film of it. He asked me to be a co-producer, which meant I did the fundraising.”

That process took more than a year. Meanwhile, Mr. Whitus wrote the script. “When someone makes a film from your book, they have their own vision, and you have to let go of yours,” Ms. Olswanger said. “It can be hard, but I have to admit this is an artistic creation I would never have had the vision for, so I’ve enjoyed the experience.”

… The October 23 event — which featured two screenings — provided an opportunity for [Rabbi Grossman] to see the film. … “The film was superbly done,” said Rabbi Grossman, a past president of the Rabbinical Council of America. “It’s a very painful story, but it has a powerful message that applies to everyone.”

In the latest Greenhorn newsletter, Olswanger said that Whitus is currently entering the film into Jewish film festivals. They are also seeking a distributor for the film, at which point the film can begin to be shown in schools. “As I mentioned in several previous newsletters,” Olswanger wrote, “even the youngest Holocaust survivors will soon be gone, and children today may grow up without a direct connection to the Holocaust. This film, along with other Holocaust films and books, could be their only connection. We believe that the Greenhorn film will have a place in Holocaust education programs, especially in the five states where Holocaust education is mandated: New York, New Jersey, Florida, Illinois, and California.”

The young actors take a bow after the panel discussion. Left to right: Matthew Oliva (Bernie), Leo Hojnowski (Aaron), Tim Borowiec (Ruben), Zane Beers (Irving), Giorgio Poma (Daniel), Zaki Sky (Hershel). In the background: Tom Whitus (director) and Anna Olswanger (author of the book).
The young actors take a bow after the Museum of Tolerance panel discussion. Left to right: Matthew Oliva (Bernie), Leo Hojnowski (Aaron), Tim Borowiec (Ruben), Zane Beers (Irving), Giorgio Poma (Daniel), Zaki Sky (Hershel). In the background: Tom Whitus (director) and Anna Olswanger (author of the book). Photograph by Tanya Beers.

Read more about Greenhorn from the Jewish Standard, or from the official Greenhorn movie site.

Greenhorn is available in hardcover and ebook from NewSouth Books, Amazon, or your favorite bookstore.

Fred Gray on Case Western, Cuba Gooding Jr. in Selma

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014 by Brian Seidman

Bus Ride to Justice by Fred GrayEsteemed civil rights lawyer Fred Gray grew up in Montgomery, Alabama, in the 1940s-50s, but to pursue his goal of “destroy[ing] everything segregated that I could find,” he had to leave the state to earn his law degree. Because African Americans weren’t allowed to attend Alabama law schools and Gray knew people who had moved to Cleveland, Ohio, he enrolled at Western Reserve, now know as Case Western Reserve University.

In recognition of the new edition of Gray’s memoir, Bus Ride to Justice, Case Western’s Think Magazine‘s Bill Lubinger spoke with Gray about his experiences at the school and about his experiences with Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks in the Montgomery Bus Boycott and other civil rights events. They also talked about the new movie Selma, produced by Oprah Winfrey, in which Cuba Gooding Jr. has been cast as Gray.

Gray spoke with Lubinger about the revelation in Gray’s new edition of Bus Ride to Justice that he and Rosa Parks had discussed, prior to Parks’s historic arrest, the need for someone to be arrested to serve as an inciting incident to end bus segregation. Gray said, “She worked at a department store a block-and-a-half from where my office was located, so we shared our lunches every day and talked about the conditions on the buses. We talked about what one should do if asked to get up and give up her seat [to a white passenger], and I knew Mrs. Parks was certainly ready to do whatever she could do to end these problems. And, of course, it developed that the opportunity presented itself and she refused to get up and give her seat and was arrested.” Gray subsequently consulted others in the community and made plans for the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

Lubinger asked about experiences at Case Western that had an impact on Gray’s life, and Gray recalled that “Professor [Samuel] Sonnenfeld, who was my faculty adviser, told me, ‘Don’t be afraid to seek assistance from more experienced lawyers and share the fee with them.’ If you notice, in all of my early civil rights cases, I always found some lawyer who had more experience than I had to be associated with on the case. It’s one of the guiding principles of my law practice.”

Finally, Lubinger asked Gray, “What do you think of the choice of Oscar-winner Cuba Gooding Jr. to play you in Selma, the upcoming movie about the civil rights movement? Any advice on how to play you?”

Gray replied, “I certainly would like the opportunity to talk with him and explain to him a lot of the details . . . and the conversations between Dr. King and me that no scriptwriter of a screenplay would know. I think he’s an excellent actor, and I’m sure he’ll do a very good job.”

Read “A Legal Legend” on the Think Magazine website.

Bus Ride to Justice is available in hardcover and ebook from NewSouth Books, Amazon, or your favorite bookseller.

Tennessean highlights music program featuring NewSouth’s Frye Gaillard, Davis Raines, Pamela Jackson and others

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014 by Lisa Harrison

Watermelon Wine: The Spirit of Country Music by Frye Gaillard

In a recent features story, The Tennessean‘s Peter Cooper calls Frye Gaillard’s Watermelon Wine “the first great and inspiring book I ever read about Nashville music-makers.” Evidently, our NewSouth author found inspiration in his own work too, as he’s now writing songs and touring with his favorite Nashville singer-songwriters who perform them. The program is titled “Watermelon Wine and the Poetry of Southern Music.” Frye reads passages from from his book, sometimes in the company of NewSouth author Rheta Grimsley Johnson, who reads from her memoir about Hank Williams, Hank Hung the Moon. They are joined by Davis Raines, Pamela Jackson, and Anne E. DeChant.

In the article, Gaillard recalls first meeting Raines and Jackson and his admiration for their talents. The author-turned-lyricist notes: “I don’t find [songwriting] easy,” he says. “There’s the challenge of saying a lot in a small space, and making it rhyme. Having done it now, I’m more amazed at people who have done it really well, over an extended period of time.”

Raines and Jackson are both inspired by Gaillard’s gifts as a chronicler of Southern history, from the Civl War through the civil rights era. They credit him for his poetic lyrics, which describe human resilience in the face of social and economic hardship.

Frye Gaillard and friends continue to take “Watermelon Wine and the Poetry of Southern Music” to venues throughout the Southeast, stopping at public libraries, coffee houses, and universities, too — Belmont University in Nashville, most recently. Always they play to an appreciate audience.

Watermelon Wine and Hank Hung the Moon are available in print and ebook from NewSouth Books or your favorite bookstore.